God as Judge
Of course, these four “interruptions” of the flow of Nahum are not interruptions at all. They are the author’s deliberate means of informing his audience about what this book is all about. Nahum does not detail God’s judgment on his enemies so modern Christians can theologize about God’s wrath; he does not emphasize God’s vengeance so the Israelites could feel self-righteous about their relative goodness when compared to Assyrians; he doesn’t even emphasize divine retribution so the Israelites might fear God all the more, lest they, too, fall into the hands of an angry God. There is no evidence that this book is about any of those things. Instead, Nahum is declaring to God’s people that God himself takes full responsibility for judging the nations and restoring his people—that God himself will see to it that international justice is served. The Israelites can celebrate their festivals, fulfill their vows, and watch their ruthless enemies get what’s coming to them, all without lifting a finger against their oppressors.
Now why would God’s prophet need to give the Israelites a message like this? I suspect that it is because they have been tempted to take justice into their own hands in ways that would compromise God’s mission for them. An analogy to parenting is not perfect, but might be instructive. Every once in a while I find myself having to remind my younger daughters, Sierra and Alissa, that when their older sister Lexi intentionally pinches them, bites them, or slams the car door in their faces that I will personally ground Lexi to her room, ban her from Facebook, confiscate her cell phone, and/or otherwise discipline her for tormenting them. I need to remind Sierra of this because she has a strong sense of justice and cries out bitterly whenever it is violated and she feels powerless to do anything about it. Her typical recourse is to usurp the parenting role and lecture her sister about her misdemeanors. Unfortunately for Sierra, nagging does not move Lexi to reform her ways; it only amuses her and provides grounds for further scoffing. I need to remind Alissa of my plans to punish Lexi because she, too, has a strong sense of justice, though she responds to injustice quite differently from Sierra. Despite being 6 years younger than Lexi, Alissa will pinch, bite, scratch, or otherwise strike back against her big sister in order to balance out the scales of justice. Unfortunately for Alissa, Lexi does not find her response to be very amusing and often retaliates with a superior show of force that demoralizes Alissa and sends her away in tears.
Though Sierra and Alissa are right about the injustice, they are wrong about their place in resolving it. As parents, Beth and I reserve the exclusive right to discipline our daughters. This is because we alone are uniquely positioned to do so in ways that are appropriate to the fragile ego of each girl, the demands of the situation, and the big picture plans we have for our family. Should we discipline Lexi too mildly, she will not be forced to rethink her misbehavior; should we discipline her too harshly, we might break her spirit in unhealthy ways that would be harmful to her formation and devastating to our plans to raise a family that is united in faith, hope, and love. With this bigger picture in mind, it is entirely out of place for my daughters to punish one another. Not only are they ill-equipped to handle that responsibility, but should they do so, they would compromise the special relationship that sisters might enjoy as they age. Our hope, Lord willing, is that our girls will build healthy lifelong friendships with each other that will sustain them after Beth and I are gone. That relationship would be compromised, however, if one of my girls were to vacate the role of sister and usurp the role of parent.
God’s plans for Israel are similar. As Christians, we know that God’s ultimate purposes for Israel involved shaping her into an exemplary people that he would later send out into the world to make disciples of all nations. Their fundamental relationship to the nations was to be one of peaceful presence among every ethnic group in every city on every continent. This is why the Apostle Paul had to remind the Christians in Rome that all people are equally lost in sin and in need of God’s grace regardless of their diverse national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. God’s people are therefore commissioned to come alongside unbelievers as fellow convicts whose only hope for pardon is God’s mercy. This would be difficult to do, of course, if our job was also to serve as judge, jury, and executioner of all wrong-doing. So in Romans 12, immediately before telling believers to care for their enemies in practical ways and to overcome their evil with good, the apostle Paul reminds them of God’s exclusive role as the world’s judge, saying, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”